Trust Uncle Jed

These Cubs aren't going anywhere. Unless that's the right thing to do.

Hear this, Cubs fans: Jed Hoyer is your friend. Remember that this season as the crows circle in anticipation of picking clean the carcass of the miracle Cubs. Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Javier Baez are headed towards free agency, Kyle Schwarber and Jon Lester are already gone, but change does not necessitate gloom.

The narratives, however, will be specifically geared to induce panic. Cubs fans make for easy targets, after all. As the 2021 campaign begins today, scare season is officially in session: articles, tweets, and commentary will forecast the departure of Rizzo, Bryant, and Baez to free agency. It will tarnish the game-watching experience with incessant, trolling negativity. These fearmongers are not your friends, Cubs’ fans.

Trust Jed. He is smarter, truer, and more committed to the cause than any scribe from the Sun-Times or Tribune. He is more prepared than the Athletic or the Ringer will make him seem. Hoyer’s work is often unseen, but as you once trusted Theo Epstein, the Father of the miracle Cubs, you must now trust in Uncle Jed.

It is natural to yearn for stability. To see Francisco Lindor sign his ten-year, $341 million contact and wonder why our own guys won’t lock in long-term. But what, exactly, is the fear? That Rizzo, Bryant, and Baez will leave in free agency? That the Cubs will be outbid by some shadow team? Nobody bids on free agents anymore! If any of those three leave in free agency next year, it’ll be because Hoyer didn’t deem them a sound investment. At the prices it takes to lock-in long-term talent, he’ll probably be right.

But just in case, let’s check.

Market Costs

What would it take to lock up one of these core bats? The Cubs reportedly offered Rizzo an insultingly-low five-year, $70 million contract. No surprise: he rejected it.

Let’s check the logs. The Cardinals extended Paul Goldschmidt on a five-year, $130 million contract at the beginning of his walk year in 2019. He was 31 years old, the same age Rizzo is now. Goldy had been a 145 wRC+ hitter up to that point, Rizzo is a 131 wRC+ hitter. Goldy had been worth 4.61 fWAR per 600 plate appearances versus 3.37 fWAR per 600 PA for Rizzo.

At the same stage of their careers, Goldy was 9.66 percent better than Rizzo by wRC+ and 27 percent better by measure of fWAR/600 PA. The Cubs offered Rizzo a contract 46 percent less than Goldy received from their division rival.

That was never going to work.

Let’s look at another example. Mookie Betts signed a 12-year, $365 million deal with the Dodgers that begins this season, his age-28 campaign. Lindor just inked his new deal with the Mets for 10 years, $341 million. It will begin in his age-28 season. They aren’t exactly comparable because they play different positions, different lengths of deal, but they are in the rare class of superstar who gets to sign a deal that’s at least a decade long. They’re close enough.

Betts had been 12.59 percent better than Lindor by measure of wRC+ and 19.12 percent better by fWAR/600 PA. Obviously, there are a lot of ways to evaluate a player, but these are two relatively-widely-accepted metrics used to measure position player success. Using this exceptionally naive method, we could split the difference and say Betts is 15.86% better than Lindor.

Assume Lindor gets paid accordingly. His overall contract amount, however, is actually only 6.58 percent less than Betts’ deal.

That said, that’s probably much closer to their real talent differential, given the positional adjustment in Lindor’s favor, plus a point or two for inflation. Besides, Lindor’s contract spans two fewer seasons, so his AAV is higher. Regardless, it’s within the ballpark of what we might have expected for Lindor, given what Betts was paid.

So what about Baez? Lindor set the market. He was the first domino. The rest of our superstar shortstop class should fall in line from there. Baez is a year older than Lindor, but how does he stack up otherwise?

Baez has been 14.41 percent worse than Lindor by wRC+, 37.99 percent worse by fWAR/600. Because Baez is older by a year, and he’s clearly not in Lindor’s stratosphere, let’s say he’s 30 percent worse. If we shrink Lindor’s deal by 30 percent by both years and AAV, that would put Baez in line for a seven-year, $168 million deal ($24 million AAV). That’s not a deal that Cubs fans should want for Baez. He’s simply too volatile an asset to be locked up for that much money for so long, covering years that are past-prime.

Now, let’s imagine a world in which the A’s had decided to sign Marcus Semien to a contract extension at the same point that Baez and the Cubs face now. Semien was the same age as Baez when he entered his final year before free agency. That’s helpful.

Their careers took different shapes, for sure, but Semien is a pretty good comp for Baez. Semien had to settle for a one-year, $18 million deal with the Blue Jays this season. So why, exactly, should the Cubs feel like they have to lock up Baez now? Especially when they still have the qualifying offer at their disposal, which will temper his market even further. Who is going to step up and pay him next winter? The Cubs are better off letting him test those frigid waters in free agency. Frankly, Baez might even accept the qualifying offer. That would be a fine compromise. Even if $18.9 million is an overpay for Baez, at one season, it’s palatable. Besides, we like him in Chicago.

The same probably stands for Bryant and Rizzo. Now, if Bryant has another MVP-type season this year, maybe someone does want to step up and pay him in the Lindor/Betts/Harper stratosphere, but frankly, that’s hard to imagine. The fact is, it’s a good market right now for teams. The Cubs have resources, as well. They won’t be “outbid” for any of these guys. They might let them walk. They might tarnish the relationship until someone like Baez would rather play for another franchise than return on bended knee to Chicago. The Cubs might not believe in Baez or Bryant as a long-term asset. But fear not: they won’t be outbid.

Rizzo’s Not Going Anywhere

We can take it a step further with Rizzo, however. He’s a special case.

If there’s a guy that Hoyer believes in, it’s Anthony Rizzo. Executives and players cross paths in all sorts of different ways throughout their careers, and it’s not at all uncommon to see the same exec acquire a former player. It happens more often than you might think. Trades are made through connections, and GMs will always be more comfortable trading for known assets.

So let’s go back to 2010. It wasn’t shocking when Jed Hoyer, then GM and top decision-maker for the San Diego Padres, insisted that his buddy Theo Epstein include Anthony Rizzo as part of the return for star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Hoyer, after all, had been an assistant GM under Epstein when the Red Sox drafted Rizzo in the 6th round of the 2007 draft. Hoyer was there when an 18-year-old Rizzo was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and Hoyer watched as Rizzo went through six months of chemo. He watched Rizzo come back from his diagnoses to resume his baseball career.

Epstein, of course, was there, too, and he still traded Rizzo away. It happens. But it might not have if Hoyer hadn’t been the guy on the other end of the line. So Hoyer trades for Rizzo and ushers him through his Major League debut with the Padres, a difficult 49-game stint at the end of 2011. After that season, Hoyer and Jason McLeod joined Epstein in Chicago. Less than three months after joining Theo on the Cubs, Hoyer (again) traded for Rizzo.

To quickly recap, what have Rizzo and Hoyer been through together?

  • drafted
  • survived cancer
  • trade
  • made ML debut
  • trade
  • won World Series
  • signed first extension

If there’s anything we know for certain about Jed Hoyer’s record as a baseball executive, it’s that he loves Anthony Rizzo. Drafted him, traded for him twice, brought him to the Majors, won a World Series with him. He even hired one of Rizzo’s best friends in the world – David Ross – to be his manager.

In a vacuum, it’s weird to see the latest report that Hoyer is “very confident” that the Cubs will sign Rizzo. Why, given the low-ball contract offer, with Rizzo saying he’s prepared to enter free agency, would Hoyer be confident now? Because Hoyer knows Rizzo better than we do. Hoyer knows Rizzo better than you know most people you know.

The Cubs will extend Anthony Rizzo. There’s no need to be nervous. It’s going to happen. This is what Jed does best: he keeps Anthony Rizzo.

Walk-Year Bounce

Yes, it’s true, we do live in uncertain times. Cubs heroes Rizzo, Bryant, and Baez are only contractually obligated to bleed Cubbie blue for one more season, and the media will spend the next year poking at the the city’s nerve center. It’s natural to feel some anxiety about three of the Cubs most popular core players all heading towards free agency. But don’t buy the hype. There’s nothing to be nervous about. The bottom line is this: Hoyer is right not to extend these guys.

From Hoyer’s perspective, it might not only be “alright” to let these guys play out their walk years, it might be optimal. The following Hoyer quote comes from Gordon Wittenmyer, who, despite my demonizing of beat reporters, actually is great:

“When guys are in their walk year I do think that there’s such a level of focus, a level of importance that every little thing is done well,” he added. “Even nutrition or sleep or your workouts —whatever it might be. …I just think that guys have a level of focus in their walk year that is hard to replicate.

“That’s always been my personal view of my idea of a walk-year bounce. It’s not that a player goes from amotivated to motivated. I think these guys are motivated; they’re the best players in the world. But I think that hyper focus and attention to detail is what can maybe make a little bit of difference.”

So when the non-believers dwell on what is unknown, stand upon the rock of knowledge. Remember that those who would turn your attention to free agency are but hoplites of Diabolos, sent to sow anxiety and discord where none belongs. Believe not the fearmongers and their insidious overlords at the Sun-Times. Do not trust the enablers at the Chicago Tribune. And most of all, never look directly into the eyes of those who tweet, for that is how they steal your soul and sully the one thing that is pure and true in this world: love of the Cubs. Show your love through trust. The way Jed trusts Rizzo to enter free agency and not jump ship when another club bats their eyelashes at him.

It’s as they say: If you love someone, set them free.

Extend them a qualifying offer, and set them free.

TC Zencka

TC Zencka contributes regularly to Pitcher List, and MLB Trade Rumors. Come say hi on Twitter.

  • Avatar Rizzbo says:

    Rizzo is the worst of the three, but you’re probably right.

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